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More than Just a Pitch: How Investment Banks Can Win New Clients


People buy from people they like. When courting new clients to mid-sized, boutique, or smaller investment banks, this adage rings truer than ever.

Bigger banks may appear to have it made with grandfathered-in legacy relationships. But nothing is a sure bet in today’s fast, increasingly global, and tech-enabled market. One screw-up or internal shakeup and clients can start looking elsewhere. Plus, companies may be acquired, merge with others, or go out of business all the time.

Be ready to pounce on the opportunities to win new clients. 

Sourcing new clients is an ongoing grind, and the more consistent your business development habits, the more skilled you become at earning and keeping them for the long haul.

So how do you establish new buy-side relationships? Before the coffees, lunches, dinners, wining and dining, where total clients may be low and per-client value is high, your creativity, personality, and these strategies count. 

  1. Strategic Cold Calls
  2. Cold calls can still work — as long as you have a solid hook. While technology makes it easy to blast off cold emails or messages through social networks, a human voice may be more welcome these days than a digital affront.

    If there are gatekeepers, be nice to them and your kindness may pay off, according to EksAyn Anderson, author of “The Key to the Gate.”

    Anderson also recommends aiming high as influence flows downward. By targeting a mid-level manager early on, you run the risk of being rudely rebuffed. If you begin with the boss — even if you continue your pitch to the same mid-level manager — you’ll do so under the boss’s direction and that manager will listen to you politely and for as long as he needed.

    You’ll want to mention trends you’ve been following, an idea you’re working on, and strategies that will help solve a problem and how it can benefit them or their clients. Research industry news from mass market media outlets but also from trade-specific journals, reports, and blogs.

    Before you get off the phone, inform them that you’ll follow-up again with by phone or email if that’s okay. Which leads us to…

  3. Succinct Emails
  4. Whether it’s a cold or warm email, targeting the right person with the right message is key. Keep it brief with five bullets or fewer of relevant information that shows you understand who you’re addressing and why you can impact their business for the better.

    List a few solutions to problems or potential strategies, along with a short intro to yourself and company. You may also wish to include a brief market update or teaser for more ideas and strategies; the goal is to show how your color impacts their business.

    Mention a mutual contact, conference or a previous phone conversation. Set an expectation of consistent and useful communication and be “on call” to answer their questions. Should a thread begin, check for or ask to include potential gatekeepers (e.g., secretaries) on email threads.

  5. Open Lines of Communication
  6. According to Horacio Falcao, INSEAD professor and negotiation coach to banks like J.P. Morgan and SocGen, many business relationships fail not for lack of value, but due to poor communication and relationship management. Politely acknowledge a prospective client’s time from the very first call. If high-level service is a strength of yours, make it a primary selling point.

  7. Logic and Transparency
  8. Sometimes the more money that’s involved, the less rational the deal. Be transparent and upfront about the value you can actually deliver. Why do you stand behind a proposed strategy? How can it benefit them or the companies in question? Point out how your pricing or fee structure will benefit future deals. For smaller companies and deals, the fees make a bigger difference and sometimes a bank will win the deal by promising lower fees or a tiered structure that rewards for better results, e.g., 75 percent under $500 million and 1.5 percent for the amount above $500 million.

  9. Observe Success
  10. Higher-ranking executives often spend less time on actual deal execution and more on solidifying relationships and representing a firm’s brand and services. Copy them — especially when you’re just starting out in the business. How do they speak to clients? What is their body language? Who schedules their appointments? How and what information is disseminated to them and what do they filter out? How often are they in business development mode?

  11. Seek Referrals
  12. Asking for referrals is diplomacy at its best. Brian DeChesare of Mergers & Inquisitions suggests consulting with any buy-side friends in the PE, VC, or hedge fund worlds. Inquire about portfolio companies, the sectors in which they’re interested, and anyone else on their radars. Don’t forget about referrals from management teams (CEOs, COOs, CFOs), lawyers, accountants, or even other investment bankers who can provide information and can vouch for your reputation.

    According to DeChesare, “Let’s say you’ve worked with a private equity firm for many years. At your next catch-up with a colleague, ask how their portfolio companies are doing (translation: are any of these companies ready to sell, refinance debt, or go public?).

    “If the partner likes you and wants to give you business, he might refer you to a CEO or CFO and say, ‘Hey portfolio company, this banker’s good — you should get to know him.’ Or if a deal is imminent, he might tell you directly: ‘They’re going public next year, and the pitch is coming up next month–we’ll be sure to include you.’

    “In tech and healthcare groups, venture capitalists are arguably more important and usually provide direct referrals to startups executive teams.”

  13. Conferences
  14. If you can stand out from everyone else and follow-up appropriately with target clients, your chances of success go way up. The real action at conferences happens offstage, so skip keynotes and panels and try to arrange as many one-on-one meetings as possible during the day. Conferences are also a great way to gather fodder for calls and emails; you gain immediate association by saying that you saw or chatted with said person at an event or conference.

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